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Nintendo Switch Paid Online Service: Tricky Business

/ Jan 31st, 2017 No Comments

Nintendo E3 2017 Press Conference

Back when Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in 2005, it made the ballsy move to charge for its Xbox Live online service that allowed gamers to play games against each other online. It has been an extremely successful service and business model for Microsoft ever since.

In 2010, Sony launched its own version of a paid online service, PlayStation Plus for the PlayStation 3. Unlike its competitor, PlayStation Plus was not required for online gaming. To make the service attractive to PS3 users, Sony offered subscribers free games each month.

In July 2013, Microsoft’s Xbox Live copied Sony’s monthly free game strategy with its own “Games with Gold” service. Sony also took a play from Microsoft’s book by making PlayStation Plus required for online gaming with the launch of the PlayStation 4 in November 2013.

There is constant pushback from consumers about the efficacy, value and quality of both systems’ paid online services. Some criticize the necessity to pay to play online, while others gripe about the quality of free games offered each month. While both services have been successful, there is a balancing act to ensuring users continue to subscribe each month.

So, what about the Nintendo Switch and its new online model?

Nintendo’s Gamble

During Nintendo’s recent reveal of the Nintendo Switch, the company announced it would be changing to a paid online service for co-op and competitive games. No pricing was announced, and the service won’t launch until fall 2017.

Until the fall launch, Nintendo Account holders will be able to use online services for free. While free, it won’t include many of the paid features, including online lobbies and voice chat, monthly game downloads and exclusive deals in the digital store.
 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

It’ll be free to play online at launch, but will you be willing to pay for it this fall?

The gamble for Nintendo is its shaky history of online service. The rough and unreliable Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for the Wii and DS family of systems can be chalked up to relying on a third-party services for online gaming.

However, the limitations of the Nintendo eShop and the Nintendo Network are wholly on Nintendo. While Nintendo moved in the right direction with the Nintendo Network and eShop by having a consolidated account ID, better speed and more reliable online gaming, it still is not up to par with its competitors.

The biggest drawback is how restricted it is. It can be difficult to use Nintendo Network IDs on different systems concurrently and friend codes for the 3DS, and there is a lack of voice chat and limited means of communication between players.
 

Arms

Paid online could work with a focus on substantive online gaming components.

Even though the Nintendo Network was a step in the right direction, it is not close to what either PlayStation or Xbox offered in terms of online services. That is the major problem for Nintendo in moving to a paid model. It has a ton of work to do in terms of reaching parity with either PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live.

If Nintendo hasn’t been fixing all the criticisms its prior online services faced, forcing its customers to pay for online features is a setup for failure.

Hollywood Video

Aside from how often you play games online, one major saving grace for both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live is the monthly free games. Even if the quality varies widely month to month, it is a huge value added to the yearly subscription fees on either console. Nintendo understands this, at least partially.

Subscribers of the Switch’s online service will be able to download a free game each month. The game will be an NES or Super NES title with newly-added online play. But because this is Nintendo, there is a catch.
 

Splatoon 2

If Splatoon 2 is half as good as the first, you might not think twice about paying for online service.

The free game will only be available for subscribers to play for a month. That immediately takes away the obvious value added element of the paid service. Customers don’t actually own the game, not even in the tenuous ownership sense of PS Plus or Xbox Live, where digital licenses only stay active for the duration of a user’s subscription.

Essentially, Nintendo’s value added is a lengthy trial or rental of older games. An argument could be made that this helps highlight whatever game is offered each month, and that it make subscribers more likely to play it that month rather than download it and let it sit on their hard drives until they get around to playing it.

Still something doesn’t feel right about it. Maybe it is because we’ve gotten so used to a partially ownership with other services, but being limited to playing a game for free — an older game at that — feels chintzy. It also feels indicative of the type of services this paid model will offer: Nintendo doesn’t quite get what users expect and want from a paid online service.

Tough Sell

Nintendo hasn’t had the best track record with its online services, so it’s a risky move to switch to a paid model for its latest console. Players won’t even have the value added argument PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live offer because Nintendo’s service is essentially offering game rentals rather than free games. Unless the pricing for Nintendo’s service is extremely reasonable or the Switch has a ton of must-play online games, the service might be doomed from the start.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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